South Florida is 4-0 but hits the road for the first time today to face a talented Florida team that has struggled this season.
By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2002
The team ranked in the top 10 has the trio of top-notch seniors and the top-shelf crop of freshmen.
It also has two losses already, and barely escaped a third.
The other team, aside from a priceless expression flashed by its coach that was captured and replayed on SportsCenter, has gone virtually unnoticed this season.
That team is undefeated.
Florida (the former) and South Florida (the latter) enter today's 4 p.m. game in Gainesville from disparate vantage points. USF (4-0) hopes to emerge with some of the recognition and attention the Gators have gathered.
"They're as skilled a basketball team as I've seen in a long time, more skilled than they were last season," said USF coach Seth Greenberg, whose team lost to the Gators in the Sun Dome a year ago. "They've done a great job and have a terrific program."
Florida hasn't been terrific away from the O'Connell Center, losing to Stanford in the Preseason NIT at New York's Madison Square Garden and at West Virginia.
Greenberg figured the West Virginia loss was an attention-getter, but Florida was not sharp in a one-point win Friday at Florida State.
There is one key difference today: Florida is at home. And USF's four wins -- against Nova Southeastern, Providence, Alcorn State and Nebraska -- have come on their home court.
"I told the players it will come down to poise, maintaining poise in a tough environment," said Greenberg, whose wide-eyed, mouth-agape expression after a 30-foot 3-pointer by Reggie Kohn in Thursday's win over Nebraska made ESPN's highlights. "They are going to have runs and we have to have the poise to deal with it.
"Nebraska made a run, we got it back. Providence made a run, we got it back. Now we won't have the home crowd to help us."
Greenberg lauded Florida's talent level and gushed about UF seniors Matt Bonner and Justin Hamilton, specifically their toughness and grasp of the game. However, USF has some talent of its own.
Junior forward/guard Jimmy Baxter and sophomore guard Marlyn Bryant are premier athletes who are emerging as strong players on both ends of the court. Both will be counted on to help savvy point guard Kohn cope with Florida's swarming full-court pressure.
"To beat them you've got to deal with their pressure," Greenberg said. "You've got to get the ball in and then have good spacing, so when you do get trapped you have an outlet."
USF has one clear edge, at center. Senior Will McDonald, who is 6-foot-11, will have the advantage whether he's guarded by the 6-10 Bonner, 6-8 David Lee or reserves Adrian Moss (6-9), Bonell Colas (6-9) and Mario Boggan (6-6).
McDonald has committed two quick fouls in two games this season and must avoid getting into trouble early. "He's got to play well," Greenberg said.
The USF-UF series will be discontinued for at least two seasons. However, Greenberg said he and Florida coach Billy Donovan have discussed renewing it on a home-and-home basis beginning in 2005-06.